The Strangest Place: New and selected poems
Black Pepper, $29 pb, 302 pp
Stephen Edgar, over the past two decades or so, has earned himself an assured place in contemporary Australian poetry (even in English-language poetry more generally) as its pre-eminent and most consistent formalist. His seemingly effortless poems appear in substantial overseas journals, reminding readers that rhyme and traditional metre have definitely not outlived their usefulness.
Edgar’s The Strangest Place: New and selected poems is an ideal opportunity to examine what this reputation is founded on. Its poems were written across some forty-four years, though it is only in the past twenty or so that we recognise clearly the poet we know today. In the earlier collections (Queueing for the Mudd Club in 1985, and Ancient Music in 1988), the poems already show Edgar’s formal command but are perhaps less ambitious technically than his more recent ones. The use of blank verse is never less than assured, and the rhymes, while less complex and original than the ones Edgar uses currently, are still more than fit for purpose. His long poem ‘Dr Rogers’ Report’, for instance, is a highly engaging exercise in a nine-line variant of Byron’s ottava rima.